Archives for April 2018

The La Paz Witches’ Market

By Katlyn Maas

I woman that I greatly admire told me once that to understand a culture different from mine, I needed to visit one of their markets. La Paz was no exception to this piece of advice. Before visiting the Witches Market, my friends and I had been warned about the oddities that would await us, but we took the warning lightly. We had no idea as to what we were getting ourselves into.

When we began our journey up the hill, shops and street vendors filled both sides of the road. Alpaca sweater shops, jewelry stores, adventure trip tickets, and modern restaurants were some of the places that we observed as we walked up the hill, and we stopped in a sweater shop to see some of the handiwork of the Andes Mountains. The products were absolutely beautiful, with different colored wools woven into each other to create blocky patterns that danced across the textile. It was expensive, though; one sweater was about 300 bolivianos, with each size being a different price. We left the shop, keeping the price in mind for comparison, and made our way up the second half of the hill.

When we finally got to the street that held the Witches’ Market, we were initially greeted by a large display of color. Booths held tapestries, t-shirts, necklaces, little llamas, keychains, and other little items that were typical of an economy with tourism as its center. It drew us farther into the street, where we taught Rachel how to barter and bonded over McKenzie’s search for bolivianite, the national gemstone of the country. After a few of the typical shops, we separated; Rachel and I went our separate way while McKenzie and Elisabeth went deeper into a jewelry store to look for the gem. We realized, however, that as we got farther into the market, the more we understood how it got its name.

There were the typical shops; we found a shop that sold alpaca sweaters much cheaper than the first store that we visited, and purchased some. But there were also shops that a typical Bolivian would visit to conjure a spell for good luck. Dried llama fetuses hung from the ceilings and doorways, to be used for good luck charms and new beginnings. Coca leaves were sold as a medicinal herb, ready for chewing, brewing, or stewing. Amulets and mini charms were displayed like guardians over the store owners, representing protection, intelligence, fertility, and strength. There were things that we had never even imagined being sold for the Aymara and Quechua people, all with historical and societal references that we couldn’t even begin to understand. It was terrifying and awe-inspiring all at the same time.

We found McKenzie and Elisabeth across the street about four shops later, and they seemed weirded out by some of the things that they had seen. We were, as well, but I also found it interesting. The cultural significance of the market opened my eyes to what the Bolivian people believe, and it showed me how American culture differs from the culture of the Andes. As we walked down the street together, we talked about this, and about how we felt observing our surroundings. The consensus was that we all enjoyed ourselves, and we did so much that we went back a second time later in the week.


Meet the Bloggers: Bolivia 2018

Four S&T students traveled to Bolivia during Spring Break 2018 as part of their course “Bolivia from a Historical and Cultural Perspective.”  Professors Jorge Porcel and Audra Merfeld-Langston (both from the Department of Arts, Languages, & Philosophy) led the trip, which is funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education via the Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language (UISFL) Program. Students also received support from the College of Arts, Sciences, and Business. The trip included intensive Spanish language lessons, visits to museums and markets, interactions with faculty at our partner institution, Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, and day trips to the rural community of Lupalaya and to Tiwanaku, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The students include:


RACHEL BIRCHMIER: I am a senior at Missouri S&T majoring in physics. I am also minoring in Spanish, mathematics, and computer science, to obtain the skills I need to become a better scientist and researcher in the future. I am from Kansas City, Missouri and enjoy studying science, playing sports, and being outdoors. This trip to Bolivia will be my first time traveling out of the continent, but I hope to travel more in the future. I enjoy learning new things and exploring new environments. Traveling is a good way to learn outside of classes and to familiarize yourself with new languages and life skills. After graduation, I plan to pursue my PhD in physics and do experimental research in condensed matter physics. I hope that the skills I learn while studying abroad will help me to better understand and communicate with people while performing research.


KATLYN MAAS: Hello! I’m a sophomore from Morrisville, MO studying engineering management and minoring in global studies. I love photography and reading about ancient cultures from around the world! If you’ve never met me before, something that you should know is that I’m the first woman in my family to study engineering; all of the other women in my family are teachers!

Although Spanish has been my first love, I took a little bit of French in high school and am in the process of learning ASL. To improve my Spanish, I took my first ever trip abroad in January to Nicaragua, and developed a Nicaraguan accent in my speaking. I wanted to study abroad originally to fulfill my requirements for my global studies minor, in which I have to spend 15 days outside the country studying. But after I left Nicaragua, I was already planning my trip back. It’s an addicting feeling, to feel new experiences you’ve never had before. I now have plans to travel to Peru and am discussing my study abroad options in Spain, but I will keep my first travels close to my heart wherever I go.



Photo credit: Z. Photography & Design

MCKENZIE RUFF: I am a 19-year-old freshman studying environmental engineering and Spanish. I grew up in Eureka, Missouri where I lived with my mom, dad, and 2 dogs. I am a 2017 graduate of Eureka High School. Growing up as an only child, my parents decided to take me on many trips abroad. These trips started when I was in second grade when I went to Argentina and Uruguay to visit family friends. After that we went on many family vacations as well to other places like Mexico and the Dominican Republic. I learned I loved to travel at a young age and in my freshman and junior years of high school I took the opportunity to do mission work in Guatemala. There, I learned I wanted to become an environmental engineer to help bring potable water to third world countries. The summer before my senior year I did a study abroad in Puerto Rico, confirming my desire to learn Spanish to help with my career goals. My passion of traveling and wanting to learn Spanish has led me to do this study abroad in Bolivia.



ELISABETH WARNER: ¡Hola! I am a junior majoring in applied mathematics and computer science. My hometown is a small city in North Central Missouri called Gallatin. I chose to participate in this study abroad trip to Bolivia in order to experience a culture and place very different than my own. I am hoping to continue to broaden my views and visit many more places, both abroad and within the United States. I have visited Italy and Canada, and I spent last summer in Yellowstone National Park. These experiences have helped to shape the person I am today.